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Retired Chicago bus driver Katie Lowe, 73, struggles to live on her pension of less than $900 a month. She estimates her electric bill alone is around $400 a month on average.
So Lowe was furious to hear that ComEd is one of five utility companies seeking rate increases that could affect millions of Illinois residents.
“I cannot understand why every time I turn around, ComEd wants to raise its rates,” Lowe says. “If you’re making a profit, why do you want to constantly raise the rates?”
ComEd, Ameren, North Shore Gas, Peoples Gas and Nicor Gas have requested rate hikes that would generate additional revenue of about $2.9 billion, according to Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. If they are approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission, the state entity that regulates utilities, customers could see their monthly bills rise beginning next year.
The companies say the rate increases are needed to improve infrastructure to ensure safe, reliable power service; to cover operating and maintenance costs that have risen due to inflation and other factors; and to comply with new state clean energy mandates.
But consumer advocates argue the utilities don’t need the extra revenue and that the rate increases would hurt residents, especially older adults, many of whom live on fixed incomes.
AARP Illinois has heard from members who are already struggling to pay their utility bills, which are sometimes hundreds of dollars a month, says Ryan Gruenenfelder, advocacy and outreach director. They are having to choose between paying for electricity and gas and other necessities such as medications, he says.
Advocacy groups are urging the commerce commission to cut the requested revenue increases by more than $1.7 billion. The regulatory body is expected to issue rulings by the end of the year.
Customers already strained
The amounts of the proposed rate increases vary by company.
ComEd, which serves more than 4 million electric customers across northern Illinois, wants to raise rates over a four-year span. Starting in 2024, the average monthly residential bill would rise by about $4.25 per month each year for a cumulative monthly increase of $17 by 2027, the company said in a statement. That would be a roughly 18 percent increase from ComEd’s current average monthly customer bill of $93.
If approved, the move would generate nearly $1.5 billion in additional revenue for ComEd.
Ameren has also proposed a plan to increase rates for both electricity and natural gas. According to the company, the average electric bill for a typical residential customer (using 10,000 kilowatt-hours) would increase by $6.27 per month each year beginning in 2024, with a total increase of $25 a month by 2027. Meanwhile, the typical natural gas customer next year would see a one-time average monthly increase of $6.68.
Citizens Utility Board estimates that rate proposals by Peoples Gas, Nicor Gas and North Shore Gas would lead to one-time average monthly utility bill increases of $11.83, $9.28 and $6, respectively.
“The companies give all of these excuses for why they need rate hikes,” says Jim Chilsen, the watchdog group’s communications director. “A company has to cover its costs, but it doesn’t deserve a blank check.”
Utility customers have already seen their bills go up in recent years because of previously approved rate increases.
In 2021, regulators granted Nicor a $240 million rate increase. ComEd and Ameren also received rate increases in both 2021 and 2022, according to commerce commission data.
Add to that nationwide inflation, and “there are a lot of people in really desperate situations,” Chilsen says.
AARP Illinois is an official intervenor in the Ameren electric and Peoples Gas cases, publicly opposing the requested rate increases. It petitioned the commerce commission to hold public hearings and collected consumer stories. AARP also created online petitions at action.aarp.org/ILelectric and at action.aarp.org/ILgas where consumers can register opposition.
Get Help With Utility Bills
Illinois residents who cannot afford to pay their full energy bills each month may qualify for financial help through a variety of assistance programs.
- The nonprofit Energy Assistance Foundation’s Warm Neighbors Cool Friends offers electricity payment help for income-eligible residents in many areas of the state who do not qualify for federal assistance. Learn more at warmneighborscoolfriends.org.
- The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program helps pay for heating gas, propane and electricity. To qualify, total household gross income cannot exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Learn more at helpillinoisfamilies.com.
- Utility companies also offer assistance programs for customers. Go to icc.illinois.gov/consumers and scroll down to Financial Assistance Programs on the left.
Ryan Basen, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and editor, writes about health care, medicine and other topics.
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